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HalifaxYesterday : Master John Jones, RN

John Jones was born in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

John Jones was born in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,* (Llanfair, PG, for short) Anglesea, Wales and began his sea career around the age of 13. After passing his examinations at Trinity House, he joined the ranks of the Royal Navy receiving his seniority as sailing master in 1812. At the time, warrant officers or standing officers were the heads of specialist technical branches of the ship’s complement. As the ship’s navigator, Jones was the only non-commissioned officer permitted to stand on the main deck alongside the captain - always having his ear and reporting directly to him. (*pronunciation: )

The Admiralty-directed maps, charts and views created by cartographer Joseph F. W. DesBarres, author of Atlantic Neptune (1777) which had been in wide use for many years, had become obsolete due to lack of accuracy. Although the principal base for the Royal Navy had been moved to Bermuda in 1818, establishment of the precise longitudinal location of Halifax had become an issue of paramount importance due to its role as home to the British North American fleet during the summer months. The need for new charts was also precipitated by numerous losses of ships heading to the St. Lawrence River along the route via the Virgin Rocks and surrounding banks off the southeast coast of Newfoundland. (See Image 1 above. Note position of St. John’s)

In 1828, under orders from the Admiralty, Rear Admiral Charles Ogle initiated an extensive three year hydrographic survey of the continent’s eastern coast. John Jones had been stationed in Halifax since 1824, first as the master aboard HMS Doterel and then as captain of HMS Orestes. Ogle commissioned Jones to oversee the project and placed him in command of his flagship, HMS Hussar. (See Images 2 & 3 above)

The massive undertaking incorporated numerous Royal Navy vessels and the latest in chronometer technology. The surveys covered areas along the St. Lawrence River, Gaspé, the Virgin Rocks, the coast of Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy and down to Bermuda - with Halifax considered the Meridian. A midshipman named Frederick Henry Stanfell kept complete log books of the voyages. These have survived and are presently housed at the Nova Scotia Archives. (See Image 4 above)

The survey also necessitated the construction of a transit observatory in the Dockyard, a four-sided wooden structure, on what came to be known as Observatory Hill, later leveled to put in a drill and football ground. The work was sanctioned by Rear Admiral Ogle in late 1828. The only available visual record of the small building can be seen in a pencil drawing by Captain Michael Seymour from the mooring of Sir Francis Austen’s flagship, HMS Vindictive, drawn on 19 June 1845. In actuality, the subject of the drawing was Admiralty House (today, Maritime Command Museum) but the observatory is prominently featured in the foreground. The original drawing is housed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. (See Images 5 & 6 above)

Jones’s able assistant for the duration of the survey was Mate Horatio Jauncey, who was duly promoted to lieutenant in 1830 for his work. The two men were commemorated for their efforts on a tablet erected in the Dockyard that same year. The plaque was later placed on the wall of the Sail Store where it remained for decades. (See Image 7 above)

In a letter to the secretary of the Admiralty, John Wilson Croker, Rear Admiral Ogle called the work of Jones and Jauncey an ”important service” and that both men “have been most indefatigable; and shown such ability that I feel it my duty to recommend them to the notice of their Lordships.” Jones was also held in high esteem by famed surveyor Commander Henry Bayfield who wrote: “It is but justice to Mr. Jones to remark that wherever I have followed him...I have always found him extremely accurate.” (See Images 8 & 9 above)

Jones had a wife, Elizabeth, and two daughters, Matilda Elizabeth and Mary Ann. In 1830, he returned to England then travelled with one of his daughters from Liverpool to Quebec where he briefly assumed the duties of captain of SS Royal William in 1831. This ship was constructed for the Quebec Halifax Steam Navigation Company which included Sir Samuel Cunard as a shareholder. Under the command of John MacDougall, Royal William was the first ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1833 using steam power for much of the journey. (See Image 10 above)

Jones’s name is shown as “Master” in The Navy List throughout the 1830s and 1840s. In The New Navy List books by Joseph Allen, which present additional information regarding service, he is listed as the assistant-surveyor of docks in Liverpool beginning sometime around 1846 until his retirement in 1855. The 1851 UK Census lists Jones as "Master Royal Navy half-pay." The family lived in Liverpool at 121 Stanhope Terrace and had a live-in servant named Jane Hoff. John Jones, master with the Royal Navy, died in 1857 at 70 years of age. There are no known images of him.

To find out more about John Jones, the HMC Dockyard observatory, and sources, please visit the following URL:

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